Here we go again. Another attempt on the Kart Racing crown, as currently worn by the mighty Mario Kart game. Will this PS3/PSP exclusive kart racer be able to compete?
The daddy of all kart racers has certainly been challenged enough over the years and although many have come close, none have actually managed to wrestle the crown from the plumbers head. Now Sony are going to have a bash, with an experience that should offer far more than the mushroom based racer. But no matter how many bells and whistles are attached to a kart racer, the success comes simply down to how well it plays.
Modnation Racers, and for this review we will be discussing the PS3 version, promises so much. Starting at the very beginning, the player is allowed to customise their racer. Although options are limited until the career mode has been mastered, there is still plenty of scope for creativity. Everything from the characters colour to the clothes they wear, the facial features and even the hair can be changed. But the real creativity begins with the use of stickers. Just like Little Big Planet, or even the Forza Motorsport series, players can use layer upon layer of stickers to create some truly amazing skins for their racers. These skins can be shared amongst the community and taking a look at those already available will show the player how creative they can get. But it is not an easy process and not something that can be mastered by everyone. Most of us will have to be content with either downloading someone else’s creation, or simply slapping a sticker on the racers belly to obtain uniqueness.
The creation does not stop with the racers. Both karts and tracks can also be pimped and created. Again, the quality of the kart modding that can be seen within the community is of a very impressive standard. Again, this level of modding is beyond the reach of most normal players. The tracks on the other hand, are fairly easy to create and do not have as many options for modifying. This makes it fairly easy to create and upload a track that feels worthy. But the downside seems to be less variety between tracks. There is also another problem with the tracks that I will get to later, as it affects the entire game.
So there we have it, Modnation Racers has enough to get the creative types all excited. But what about the gamers? Well, I have already mentioned the career mode that has to be played in order to unlock all of the goodies for creative mode. Players follow a relatively simple story involving rookie racer Tag and his quest to become the best. Filled with comical cut scenes and hilarious commentary, the player works through various races across a number of different events. Each event has a different theme and the player must come at least third in all but the final event race, which placing first is required to proceed. Each race has three targets to achieve, and each target offers different goodies to unlock for creative mode. The first target is simply finishing third (or first in the final). The other two targets consist of more difficult objectives that will probably have all but the most accomplished racer coming back to retry at a later date, such as achieving a certain number of drift or air points, or taking out a target racer on a particular area of the course.
Beyond the career mode, we have the standard collection of single races, time trials and the multiplayer options. Modnation Racers is very much centered around the multiplayer game. Indeed the main hub of the game allows players to see and interact with other online players. But the multiplayer races themselves have a few different offerings, most important of which are the XP races and series. It is by racing through these with others that players can gain experience and level up. I cannot really see the point in gaining these levels, other than for bragging rights, but I guess that it all adds to the social aspect of the game.
Well, there is no denying that there is plenty ot do in Modnation Racers. But, as I said before, it all comes down to how well the game actually plays. The first thing that any veteran kart racer will notice is that the controls feel very loose. I noticed this a lot during the beta and, although they seem to have been tightened since then, they are still not as precise as I would have liked. Controls are as one would expect from a kart racer and fairly simple to pick up. Whilst racing the player is able to pick up various power ups, as you would expect, that can be used to either aid your own race or hamper that of others. These power ups can be stacked up to three times, with each stack improving the power ups abilities. The third stack offers the most impressive impact on the game, often proving to be a game winner.
Players can drift quite simply and draft, catch air and pull tricks. All of this fills a meter on the side of the screen which enable certain other perks. This meter allows for the use of a handy boost, a frankly useless shield which lasts for a millisecond and is impossible to activate at the right time, and the sideswipe ability. The sideswipe is perhaps one of the most devastating attacks in the game and can knock an opponent so far off course that they will no longer be a threat to you. Lots of fun.
As I said, the handling is too loose for my liking and can result in some real moments of frustration. But, other than that, the game provides a decent kart racing experience. It feels like it is a lot more down to luck than skill, unlike the Mario Kart game, but at least that makes it a bit fairer in the online races.
How does the game look? Well, it is a Sony exclusive title. Are you expecting it to look pants? It looks great, very well polished and appealing. The cartoon style graphics and sheer variety of things to see make the game a joy to look at. The sounds do a great job too, with everything you would expect from a kart racer, including a pair of annoying commentators. The production value across the whole game is high.
There is, however, a major flaw in the games execution. The loading times in between different menus and races, or creation stations etc., are horrific. Sitting and waiting in excess of a minute for a race to begin and then doing it all again after the race, and then again for the next race, really does kill the atmosphere. I am not really sure what has gone wrong here, only that it is very annoying. The developers are working on a patch for the game ot fix this particular problem, so hopefully this will not be an issue for too much longer.
As I said earlier, there is another problem with the game in regards to the track creation itself. There is no denying that there is a lot to do within Modnation Racers. But, beyond playing the campaign and creating some stuff, the main longevity of the game is playing other peoples tracks. But to what end? I have the same problem with Little Big Planet. What is the point in playing other peoples levels? Getting the best time may be a pull, but otherwise I can see no reason. Playing other peoples tracks in Modnation Racers is all well and good, but the variety is not that huge and there is no real reward from doing so.
I would like to see players be able to create their own championships, their own mini career modes that will allow for the player to actually feel a sense of accomplishment. Will this happen in the future? Who knows. I only know that right now, although the game is fun, I can see it getting really old really quickly. There will always be the hardcore racers that will spend all of their time racing others tracks getting some sense of achievement, but the initial buzz around the game will not last long.
Modnation Racers is a beautiful looking game which handles well and will offer the player plenty to do, at least in the short term. It is not without its problems, but hopefully they will be fixed in time. The longevity of the game is hampered by it’s lack of purpose but it is worth keep checking back because this is the type of game that will evolve. Not quite as good as the kart racing daddy, but a worthy attempt.